I was having a conversation with a CEO this week and we were debating the meaning of “leader” and “leadership.” His contention was that because he was the designated leader of the company, he was exhibiting leadership. When I asked him to define what that meant to him, he circled back, saying he was the leader. The reason we were having the conversation was that he was having trouble getting his team to follow his lead.
I think there are numerous examples today of those who are in the position of leader, however, they are not exhibiting leadership. This is true in politics, in business, in religion and in almost every aspect of our daily lives. In my mind, leadership is about inspiring others to join together to achieve something, or do something. It’s about getting out of the way so that everyone can contribute, and feel included and that what is being achieved as a collective is more than one could alone. I’m not talking about socialism but about inspiration and shared vision.
Everyone can think of that leader who made you want to do something you never thought you could, who inspired you to greatness or mentored you in a way that you needed right at that time. Those are the kinds of business leaders we need today. Unfortunately, in all aspects of life, this kind of leadership is something of a rarity. The current Pope is actually an example of what I am talking about. He has not tried to make the papacy about him, he has tried to make it about doing the right thing, and changing opinions of the collective for the greater good. Donald Trump is an example of the opposite of this. He is the type who is only interested in his own self-aggrandizement or leading, not in leadership.
Entrepreneurs usually start out in the first camp because their initial idea has inspired them and likely is inspiring to others too, but true leadership is more than a business idea or a philosophy, it’s about inspiring others to also have ideas, to join the team, to be and do more. Somewhere along the entrepreneurial road, this gets lost and it becomes “do it this way,” and “I’m the leader because my title says so.” Founders sometimes don’t make the best leaders, but the smart ones realize this and bring in someone who is a great leader. It’s about getting across the finish line, a great leader crosses with his or her team.
Your company may be a leader in your industry or category, this doesn’t mean you have shown leadership as the company’s leader. It means your business got into position first or at present it is the best or the biggest. This is different than leadership. True leadership shows the team how to stay in front and inspires them to give their best to do so.